Construction zone on Highway 99 in Merced raises concerns after fatality

Nic Garcia Image
Friday, July 21, 2023
Construction zone on Hwy 99 in Merced raises concerns after fatality
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After a deadly crash on Thursday, concerns have again come up over Caltrans setting up narrow lanes with concrete barriers that can leave drivers feeling trapped.

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- A woman is dead after a crash in a construction zone on Highway 99 in Merced.

The California Highway Patrol says a 58-year-old woman from Avenal was driving a Nissan pickup truck south on Highway 99 when a big rig traveling north lost its axle, which bounced over the barrier and hit the Nissan.

The woman died at the scene. A child in the backseat was not injured.

"In this case, we just don't know the exact cause of why that tire detached; we're going to be doing an investigation," said Mike Salas of the California Highway Patrol.

The southbound Highway 99 rehabilitation project through Merced began on May 21. Caltrans created a "tunnel" lane with K-rails.

Days later, a truck carrying liquid fertilizer overturned inside the lane, causing an hours-long closure.

Then on May 30, a big rig carrying 40,000 pounds of frozen food crashed near the start of the lane split when the CHP said the driver couldn't slow down in time to avoid hitting other cars.

Caltrans says the K-rails are necessary to protect construction workers and drivers.

But these incidents remind Livingston Mayor Gurpal Samra of when his car was hit in a construction tunnel lane in Atwater nearly two years ago.

"I looked and saw the truck, and I knew it wasn't going to stop. Between the barriers, you can't jump out. Where are you going to go? You can't pull aside. You're stuck," said Samra.

He said he sees accidents like the one that happened Thursday morning and thinks about the victim's family and thinks differently about the delays created by crashes.

"Ever since I learned to be compassionate towards people and realize inconvenience doesn't negate what some person is suffering or their loved ones are suffering," said Samra.

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